A Tall History of Sugar

A Tall History of Sugar

3.26 (380 ratings by Goodreads)
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3.26 (380 ratings by Goodreads)

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A haunting, epic Caribbean love story, reminiscent of García Márquez's Love in the Time of Cholera.

WINNER of the 2020 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Fiction!

A Tall History of Sugar is a gift for grown-up fans of fairy tales and those who love fiction that metes out hard and surprising truths. Forbes's writing combines the gale-force imagination of Margaret Atwood with the lyrical pointillism of Toni Morrison.
--New York Times Book Review, Editors' Choice

A mesmerizing love story that takes place over 50 years in Jamaica.
--Tayari Jones in O, the Oprah Magazine

A Tall History of Sugar has been longlisted for the 2020 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature (Fiction shortlist)!

Curdella Forbes's A Tall History of Sugar is the most recent in an impressive new wave of novels by Jamaican writers--from Marlon James's Booker Prize-winning A Brief History of Seven Killings to Kei Miller's Augustown, Marcia Douglas's The Marvelous Equations of the Dread, and Nicole Dennis-Benn's Patsy, among others. Forbes provides an eclectic, feverish vision of Jamaican 'history' from the 1950s to the present glimpsed through the experiences of an abandoned mystic-child named Moshe, whose translucent skin and mismatched eyes defy racial category. Who he is and who he becomes--like the country itself--is a riddle that unfolds in episodic bursts and linguistic flourishes.
--Vanity Fair, one of the Best Books of 2019

An epic tale of two soulmates: Moshe Fisher, born with mismatched eyes and pale skin that bruises easily, and Arrienne Christie, 'her skin even at birth the color of the wettest molasses, with a purple tinge under the surface.' Arrienne is his protector at school--and later his lover--but how they eventually wind up together is part of this unconventionally crafted story that spans decades, from the years before Jamaica's independence to the 2010s. Forbes' sentences are the stars here; it's a book that rewards slow, careful reading.
--BuzzFeed, included in BuzzFeed's Fall 2019 Preview

A Tall History of Sugar tells the story of Moshe Fisher, a man who was born without skin, so that no one is able to tell what race he belongs to; and Arrienne Christie, his quixotic soul mate who makes it her duty in life to protect Moshe from the social and emotional consequences of his strange appearance.

The narrative begins with Moshe's birth in the late 1950s, four years before Jamaica's independence from colonial rule, and ends in the era of what Forbes calls the fall of empire, the era of Brexit and Donald Trump. The historical trajectory layers but never overwhelms the scintillating love story as the pair fight to establish their own view of loving, against the moral force of the colonial plantation and its legacies that continue to affect their lives and the lives of those around them.

Written in lyrical, luminous prose that spans the range of Jamaican Englishes, this remarkable story follows the couple's mysterious love affair from childhood to adulthood, from the haunted environs of rural Jamaica to the city of Kingston, and then to England--another haunted locale in Forbes's rendition.

Following on the footsteps of Marlon James's debut novel, John Crow's Devil, which Akashic Books published in 2005, we are delighted to introduce another lion of Jamaican literature with the publication of A Tall History of Sugar.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 368 pages
  • 157 x 229 x 36mm | 567g
  • English
  • 1617757519
  • 9781617757518
  • 2,631,702

Review quote

Jamaican patois is just part of what animates A Tall History of Sugar by Howard University professor Curdella Forbes, who centers her memorable novel around a folktale of soul mates Moshe Fisher and Arrienne Christie. An adult Arrienne narrates the mysterious Caribbean fantasy.
--Essence, an October Book Pick

Haunting, intriguing, and absorbing...A memorable read.
--New West Indian Guide

The premise--Moshe was born with skin that can't be classified as either black or white--is ingenious, and the novel is an epic modern fairytale that offers the pleasure of being steeped in Forbes's poetic, intoxicating sentences right from the opening line.
--The Guardian (UK), recommended by Sara Collins

Forbes' skillful and instinctual use of local languages and dialects further taps into a rich Jamaican oral culture, in a story that dreams of being read aloud.
--The Irish Times

One of the season's most talked-about new releases...For readers interested in the history of Jamaica, the impact of colonialism, and the enduring power of relationships, this is a perfect book to pick up this fall.
--Bookish, one of Fall 2019's Must-Read Novels

History is ever present in the novel, both as a metaphor and metonym, with Jamaica being the frame in which such a story as Moshe's and Arienne's could have happened if it had been true. The novel is historically accurate. A Tall History of Sugar is both a love story, and a story about the lasting legacy of slavery and the impact of the colonial system on Jamaica.
--The Rumpus

A Jamaican fairy tale set in 1958, A Tall History of Sugar is a love story between an odd, intriguing child, Moshe, and his soul mate Arrienne, whom he meets on the first day of school. Where Moshe is laconic and excels in the realm of the visual, Arrienne acts as both narrator and translator in a story that spans slavery, colonialism, and the aftermath of both.
--The Undefeated, one of The Undefeated's Can't Miss Books of 2019

Unbelievably unique and also crushing...It's a hard-hitting [book], but it's so incredible.
--All The Books (BookRiot podcast), recommended by Liberty Hardy

Curdella Forbes seamlessly weaves Jamaican English and the Queen's English in this captivating novel...Part love story and part historical fiction, A Tall History of Sugar is a refreshing take on race and colonialism that moves between Jamaica and England.
--Electric Lit

Four years before Jamaica gains independence from colonial rule, a mysterious little boy named Moshe is born. This epic novel follows his story, and that of his soul mate, through their otherworldly love story set against the backdrop of Jamaica's history. The author took inspiration from Jamaican folklore for this one, so you can bet I'm excited to read it.
--SyFy Fangrrls, One of Eight New SFF Books to Read in October

Curdella Forbes writes a prose charged with history's disquiet and turbulence in a melody poised and slant against it. The melody is an act of love, many times broken, here fabulously (in the strict sense of the word) sutured to withstand the ongoing tyranny of sugar.
--Literary Hub, selected by Ishion Hutchinson as the Best Book Read in 2019

Forbes lets her novel sing with all the languages of Jamaica and Britain. She has an uncanny knack for patois and dialect, including Jamaican English, the Queen's English, and everything in between. In some ways this book tells a story of a love too deep to become romantic. In other ways it's a novel of colonialism and its tragic aftermath of racism and economic despair. But most of all, the book is a journey. The characters so vivid, their depictions so intimate, that the skin of the pages themselves almost pulse beneath the reader's fingers. A powerful journey into the souls of two lovers, two countries, and the people caught in the wakes of empires.
--Kirkus Reviews, Starred review, selected for the 2019 Fall Preview (Adult Fiction)

Forbes' novel, rich in metaphors and biblical and fairy-tale allusions, explores the cyclical nature of birth and death, and the overwhelming and terrifying power of love. It is also a forceful critique of colonialism...Born to this complicated heritage, Moshe and Arrienne discover their voices in art and social protest as Jamaica grapples with independence and identity. A fascinating post-colonial blend of romance, social history, and myth.
--Booklist, Starred review

In her immersive modern fairy tale, Forbes unspools an unlikely love story as well as a haunting, hypnotic piece of postcolonial Jamaican history...Arrienne's recount moves in hopscotch fashion, but it's driven forward by her enchanting voice, to which Forbes brings an electric lyricism. Her dialogue beautifully captures the lilt and variety of Jamaican patois...Forbes's ambitious, fantastic tale will appeal to fans of multigenerational sagas.
--Publishers Weekly, Starred review

Opening in the late 1950s in Jamaica, ending in the present, and tracing a mysterious love affair, this story follows Moshe Fisher, a man born with a unique skin condition, and his soul mate, Arrienne Christie, who makes it her duty to protect him.
--Publishers Weekly, Fall 2019 Adult Announcements (Literary Fiction)

Included in Publishers Weekly's African-American Interest Adult Titles, 2019-2020!

One of Booklist's Best New Books of the Week!

Included in BookRiot's Loved Pick/New Books Megalist!

Selected as a Publishers Weekly's Pick of the Week for the week of September 30, 2019!

Included in BookRiot's Fall 2019 Preview!

A Tall History of Sugar was named one of Publishers Weekly's Big Literary Fiction Books of BookExpo 2019

A love story that spans eras and decades.
--Bookstr, one of Bookstr's Three to Read selections for the week of November 1, 2019

This one is not to be missed.
--Jacksonville Journal-Courier

A Tall History of Sugar will leave you with many emotions and questions but it will keep you reading because you wonder where it leads.
--Carry on Friends

A deftly scripted novel that is unreservedly endorsed and recommended.
--Midwest Book Review

I'm so impressed by this book! Curdella Forbes weaves a magical, melodic, folkloric tale of characters that I feel I utterly know, that are iconic in personality and description, yet somehow remain mysterious to me, leaving them constantly on my mind. Set in Jamaica, heavy on patois, I felt immersed in the inner world of these two unforgettable characters.
--Rebecca Fitting (co-owner, Greenlight Bookstore, Brooklyn, NY)

A Tall History of Sugar is captivating from the very first page. Mythic in dimension yet movingly human in its details, alive with atmospheric richness, it heralds a fascinating new voice in English-language fiction.
--Jennifer Egan, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Manhattan Beach

Curdella Forbes gives us Moshe and Arrienne, two mesmerizing and unforgettable characters who travel through this wonderful novel in the most unpredictable directions. Through them, a tall history is told of a relationship that no reader will ever forget.
--Terry McMillan, author of Waiting to Exhale

From the opening lines of her brilliantly revelatory A Tall History of Sugar, Curdella Forbes convinces us that it is yet possible to transform English into a language of seductive power, surprise, and fresh truth. She tells a compelling archetypal love story of human complexity that is rooted in an acute sense of the history of Jamaica, and one that speaks with such ease and beauty that the language seems wholly new and splendidly accessible. Curdella Forbes has achieved something resonant and remarkable in this delightful novel.
--Kwame Dawes, author of City of Bones

Curdella Forbes has proven herself to be a lineage holder in the tradition of Gabriel García Márquez and Isabel Allende. A Tall History of Sugar is a wise and sagacious story about the one thing that matters most of all in the universe: love. Forbes has a deep understanding and compassion for her characters and a keen knowledge of the world they inhabit. It is an important book, no doubt.
--Michael Imperioli, author of The Perfume Burned His Eyes
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About Curdella Forbes

Curdella Forbes was born in Jamaica. She lives in Takoma Park, Maryland, and teaches at Howard University. She is the author of A Tall History of Sugar.
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Rating details

380 ratings
3.26 out of 5 stars
5 13% (49)
4 32% (122)
3 30% (114)
2 18% (68)
1 7% (27)
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